Start with a Story

How To Write An Article or Non-Fiction Book That Will Sell

How to write a strong opening

Let’s say George is a science writer who has been contracted to do an exclusive article for a popular magazine with a readership in the millions.  It will be a great credit for him, and he’s being paid a good deal of money to do it. He has an abundance of statistics and scientific facts and analysis to put in his article, but he’s never before written for a large general audience. He’s worried that his editor and his readers will find his information dull and boring. He can’t seem to get started with the writing, and his deadline is looming.

What should he do?

It’s easy—start with a story. Write a paragraph or two or three about a person’s experience relative to the topic, drawing the reader into the rest of the article with a human-interest angle.

For instance, George could begin:

“Betsy Bergen had natural pale blonde hair all of her thirty-nine years. That is, she did until the morning of her fortieth birthday, when she awakened to discover that it had turned bright green overnight. This native of Verdant Valley, CA wasn’t the only one—all of her California relatives over 39 have experienced the same weird phenomena.”

Writing Options:

Use a real person. In the example, above, this would be Betsy Bergen. The writer would have interviewed her and secured her permission to be quoted in his piece. If you cannot use the person’s real name, you can assign him or her another name, so long as you let the reader know about it, hopefully giving the reader some idea of why this was done.

Use a fictional person. In my opening for this article, George is not a real person, but you already knew that. I clued you to this fact by using the words, “Let’s say.” There are many ways to do this, and all are fine so long as the reader is clear that you are creating a fictional example.

Create a composite person. This would be a sub-category to creating a fictional person. You take elements from several real people to create one fictional example to illustrate your story. Again, the reader should understand that you are not naming a genuine person in your article.

Write a story as if it were about the reader in the present. For example, in When You Query An Agent, my article published by The Writer Magazine, I used this technique:

“You’ve written the great American bestseller. You think you need an agent.  How do you get an agent interested in you?”

My target audience—people interested in getting an agent to sell their novels to a publisher—was pulled into the article immediately.

Write a story as if it were about the reader in the past. For instance, you could say:

“If you happened to be panning for gold in 1849 in California, you may have been anxiously waiting for a ship to bring you a letter with news from home. But you may also have been desperate for something more important in that letter than family news: cash to get you through the winter without starving to death.”

Now that we got George through the first few sentences of his article by writing a story, he’s no longer stuck. His words are flowing as he is fleshing out his article with all the wonderful statistics, scientific studies, expert opinions and advice he’s gathered by relating them to Betsy Bergen and her family. His editor–and his millions of readers–are happy with the results. Later he can use this same technique when he’s expanding his article into a successful book.

Copyright 2006 by Barbara Doyen. All rights reserved.

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